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There are many fine museums in Paris. Obviously.

But one of the best places to view art has to be the Pompidou Museum in the Marais. The building itself is a contemporary architectural masterpiece. All colors and megaphone protrusions and escalators, with all its guts hanging out on the exterior. It almost looks like Dr. Seuss designed it, and just going up the escalators is a treat (if it isn’t hot!).

Inside, though, the place is a bastion of cool, collected and calm. Most of the works are quite large, and there’s plenty of room to sit and contemplate without a crush of people distracting you. The viewing rooms are large with tall ceilings and nicely divided. Big, white, bold, modern. And blessedly quiet, instead of the constant chatter from viewers you get at the other museums mentioned up top. This, in my opinion, is always preferable, since I’d prefer to reflect on things myself. Nobody needs to hear your analysis of the art, and if you would like to share it with your companion, please whisper it, like they do here. Otherwise, I am distracted by such insightful comments of the “Wow, Matisse¬†sure liked blue!” ilk.

FYI, the big national museums of Paris are divided by art periods/styles. There’s some overlap, but not much. So here’s the shorthand. Basically, The Louvre has the fine art from ancient times through the Renaissance up to about 1875. The D’Orsay and L’Orangerie have the impressionists and the post impressionists. And the Pompidou and the Museum of Modern Art have the fauvists and the stuff after 1900 to contemporary.

The Pompidou is divided into two floors: 1905-1960, and post-1960. I’ve only been able to get through the 1905-1960 floor so far, but there are lots of Matisses, Picassos, Giacamettis, and Kandinskys. There are also some stunning Rodin sculptures floating in a reflecting pool, but if you want to see the best of Rodin, you need to go to the Rodin Museum, which is his former home, btw. There is also a Picasso Museum, but it is closed this year. God knows why they can’t move the Picassos to another museum for viewing while the renovations are going on, but … it is what it is. I would love to see more Picassos.

I spend most of my time here looking at the works by Matisse, Picasso, Giacometti and Van Dongen. I’m not that up on art past impressionism, so I wish I’d gotten the audio guide. When I return, I will, I just don’t like waiting in line for them.

I spend some time contemplating about art, and the interplay between beautiful and powerful. In particular I find Picasso fascinating, partly because he was so unique, but also because he’s right on the line, with many works that are both distressing and ugly but somehow also beautiful. I wonder about the role of beauty in art, and think about if it’s necessary. I admire the creativity which inspired cubism and brought a whole new movement to painting. I’m also struck (as I always am by seeing paintings en masse) at how Picasso and Matisse appear to have influenced each other. And now that I’m a painter myself, I’m always interested in looking at their technique.

I can’t help noticing how graphic the more modern paintings are in terms of composition. I can see why people like to have them on their walls; they make a strong statement and the colors are usually vivid. I’m surprised at how beautiful I find the Kandinskys. They definitely do not translate well into books or internet photos. You have to see them.

For the second time, I find I have not allotted enough time to finish the Pompidou, so I do a quick stroll through the 1960+ floor. It looks to be quite good. There are Warhols, interesting textiles, machines as art, etc. I’ll be back.

I’d recommend about three hours to do the Pompidou, and also doing it at night. They’re open weeknights until 9 pm, which is unusual in Paris, where most institutions close around 6 pm. (And unlike the Orsay, which says it’s open until 6, but closes all the exhibitions at 5:30, at the Pompidou, 9 pm means they start shooing you out around 8:45 pm.) It is a great investment of three hours, not to mention a peaceful refuge from the constant bustle of Paris. Then head over to Dame Tartine for dinner and have fun with the best two waiters in Paris.

In the Marais, Metro: Hotel DeVille.

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